21 Apr In times of pandemic, where does international solidarity stand?
The impact of the current global pandemic on international solidarity is already undeniable. While the states of the European Union reveal a deepening of past divisions that hinder the Union’s action – visible during the adjustment period or the so-calledmigration crisis -, news outlets echo the predominance of competition over solidarity, from buying medical and personal protective equipment to fight the virus, to disagreement over instruments of debt mutualisation (the so-called “corona bonds”) or even some aggressive rhetoric reinforcing the lack of unity instead of an effective cooperation between European countries. Furthermore, in these practically mono-thematic times, news coverage of the humanitarian tragedy of refugees at Europe’s borders is suddenly absent from the media, within a Europe that is turning inwards and shutting itself.
We know that the balance between health and economy, notwithstanding the latter evidently being above the former, is a difficult challenge, because both concerns should go hand in hand in crises responses; otherwise there can be adverse and particularly serious outcomes at political, economic and social levels. The pandemic will have a brutal and inevitable impacts on all countries, rich and poor, now faced with unimaginable challenges that are reinforced by a general sense of instability and uncertainty towards the future. In poorer countries, where large share of the economy is composed by informal businesses, the pandemic’s social impact will be particularly harmful, as many people and families are confronted with the impossible choice between staying at home and avoiding the disease, or going to work to avert hunger (e.g. the current examples of African countries, India and Brazil). The pressure on health care systems, felt by us in wealthier countries, is a sure condition for calamity in countries with weak institutional capacities, inadequate conditions for effective health and sanitary responsiveness, with weak social protection and a large scarcity of human and financial resources.
In addition, the civil society space is shrinking and particularly threatened in this global context, reinforcing a previous trend of restricting individual and collective rights, which was already evident in an increased difficulty in upholding human rights, the right to freedom of expression and the right to development. It is therefore, increasingly important to support civil society organisations’ capacity for action, both in direct assistance to populations and through advocacy and political influence, and also reinforcing their contribution to a democratic culture and a more effective fight against poverty and inequality.
On the other hand, the pandemic also represents an opportunity to rethink development and economic models, to redirect production and consumption patterns, accelerate the energy transition and reverse the disastrous course of resource predation and environmental degradation. An expected reinforcement of protectionism, nationalism, or the competition of realpolitik should also be countered by a reinforcement of international cooperation and solidarity. The United Nations Secretary General’s appeal for a global ceasefire is a commendable attempt to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on more fragile and conflict-affected countries. Throughout the world, we also witness encouraging signals, with the collaboration and networking among the scientific community, various businesses and States taking measures to protect their citizens and supporting common actions for fighting the disease, and many citizens mobilised for helping each other and cooperate beyond borders – geographic, ethnic, social and economic, or others.
That must, also, be the path chosen in development cooperation. More than ever, it is necessary that people’s needs and aspirations be placed at the centre of development processes, undertaking additional efforts to realise the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – which is in itself a framework for action and response, collective and global. The enormous pressure on public finances requires difficult decisions in donor countries, but their action can make a difference particularly at this time, by reducing the human and economic costs of the crisis. Assistance should be directed especially to the poorest and most vulnerable, the coordination of aid programmes must be reinforced and an additional effort should be made for continuing structural projects andprogrammes. Flexibility is definitely one of the keywords: flexibility to adapt or re-orient international community’s support and refocus on what is most important, to act increasingly together, to work in a more coordinated manner and diversify partnerships, and to implement the lessons learnt from previous crises.
The present crisis is a test to our common humanity. It therefore requires adequate responses that unequivocally express our common sense of global citizenship, empathy and solidarity.
Article by Patrícia Magalhães Ferreira, an independent consultant and researcher on development and cooperation, associate consultant of VFC.
Photos by UN Photos
United Nations, New York | 03 April 2020 | UN Photo/Evan Schneider | Scene at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens during COVID-19
United Nations, New York | 04 April 2020 | UN Photo/Evan Schneider | Scene Outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens during COVID-19
Bamako, Mali | 04 April 2020 | UN Photo/Harandane Dicko | Decontamination of Public Places in Bamako during COVID-19